Not Quite Yet

I was looking forward to returning to work next week. When I first admitted that a medical leave of absence would be of immense benefit to healing, I honestly had no idea how long I would be off work. The initial leave was two weeks, but I realized that it wasn’t going to be enough and asked my doctor to approve a longer leave. I still had no idea how long, so I was surprised when my doctor told me to take another 8 weeks which would see me back to work after February 12th. After being home for 2.5 months, I was mentally ready to get back to work, and I was hopeful about being physically ready with a few accommodations. At the end of January I submitted the necessary paperwork from my doctor to head office and began preparing for a return to work.

The leave of absence people finally responded to my submission yesterday, and I was informed that they were unable to approve my return to work based on the restrictions noted by my doctor. I could rant about my doctor, but I won’t. While I may not agree with everything my doctor put on the form, I also cannot deny that the majority of the restrictions are reasonable and appropriate. Still, I wasn’t expecting to be denied and it stung. Instead of returning to work next week, I remain on leave until mid-March and will need to see my doctor for an updated abilities form. Once again I feel like I am letting down my co-workers, because I know they were looking forward to having me back as much as I was looking forward to being back.

I didn’t see that lemon being hurtled my way, but I can be quick on my feet sometimes. It’s almost easy to see the benefits of remaining on medical leave for another month…

  • no need to wake up at 4:00 AM
  • I can continue wearing nail polish
  • I can continue wearing yoga pants almost exclusively (because belts and jeans seem to aggravate my back)
  • I can watch as much of the Olympics as I want
  • I no longer need to dial back my training at the gym in anticipation of an increase in pain the first few weeks of being back to work
  • another month off means that I will have another month to focus on healing and regaining strength, flexibility, and mobility
  • winter might be over by the time I get back to work
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46 Years

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” ~Ashley Montagu

Today is my 46th birthday.

I hadn’t given much thought to the day or what I might want to do to celebrate. As I have been dealing with my injury for the past two months, my attention has been focused more on pain and recovery than on an impending birthday. As 2017 drew to a close, birthday thoughts did start to run through my mind; however, those thoughts were like mist. It’s bad enough that my birthday is during the awkward post-Christmas/New Year’s bustle. The weather can be iffy. People are exhausted from the holidays, or they are out of town or still hosting company. And then there is the sickness that always seems to make the rounds over the holidays! Even if I had wanted to make something out of my birthday, my plans would have been defeated by the illness inside my house. I’m not sick but almost everyone else is.

I went to the gym this morning, both excited and nervous about new exercises in my program for the week. As is often the case with a new exercise, the weight was left for me to choose and I chose cautiously. It’s been some time since I last did these types of exercises, but they felt better than I thought they might and I actually upped the weight on a couple of them.

The rest of my day was hardly worth commenting on…recline (while wincing in pain), putter around the house aimlessly (limping actually), drinking coffee, drinking water, nibbling on food, watching my son fold the laundry that he washed (bless him), watched the US lose to Sweden, more reclining, more puttering, ate pizza and cake, and watched Canada beat the Czechs. Real exciting, right! And all this while my husband and daughter moaned, groaned, coughed, ate soup, slept, and blew noses. Happy birthday to me!

But the day hasn’t been horrible. It may have been less than I hoped for, but it was still an okay day. My phone was alive with the sounds of Star Wars. I received plenty of birthday love on Facebook and Instagram.

Lemons in Shades of Grey

With the year being still fresh and new, I have seen quite a few social media posts announcing the start of new goals and/or the first workout of the year. Such posts are equally encouraging and depressing to me. It is good to see people pursuing fitness goals or striving to improve their health, and I applaud those efforts and encourage them. But for me, in this current season of dealing with a herniated disc, it can be a struggle to keep my grip on positivity from slipping. Sometimes I simply feel frustrated. Frustrated with my limitations. Frustrated with the slowness of recovery. Frustrated with being unable to do…normal. My normal. I’m not just talking about at the gym. I am bored and restless. I have oodles of time on my hands, but there are limits to what I can do.

Although I was given a program for last week, I told my coach that I wasn’t going to do all of it. In fact, I didn’t go to the gym at all last week. There was Christmas. We got a lot of snow. My car is on the brink of death. And I just had a rather painful week. I did my rehab exercises at home and that was it. I enjoy going to the gym, but it was a mental struggle to get myself there today for my first “workout” of 2018. I went through the motions, occasionally feeling some rust from the week off, but mostly I was acutely aware of the numbness in my foot, the weakness in my calf, and the currents of pain down my legs. It’s not that my activities were doing harm, at least I don’t think they were, but then again, I don’t honestly know.

Not knowing seems to be what I do best these days. Every time someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t know what to say or how to answer the question. Am I doing better? Yes. I think so. In some ways. In many ways I am moving better. I feel like I could do a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t actually do yet. But there is still so much that isn’t right and good and normal. The numbness. The lack of reflex in my Achilles tendon. The pain. No one can see those things, but I feel them. I walk with the sensation that three of my toes are swollen and twisted because of the numbness. I lie down and immediately have ripples of pain and muscle spasms radiating from my butt all the way down both legs. Sure, I can tolerate the pain now, but it is unrelenting. I go to bed with the pain. I wake up with the pain.  I want to be better, but I don’t know when that will happen. The pain in my legs feels a bit stronger today. The numbness has felt a bit worse for the past couple of days. I have to call my doctor, but I am dragging my feet, knowing the futility of such a task.

If you’ve never had such a back injury, can you fully understand what a person is going through or feeling? I don’t have an answer for that, although I can say that I can now admit that I would never have completely understood prior to my own injury. I look normal and whole, so why shouldn’t I be able to pick up a heavy bag of garbage, shovel snow, or even sneeze without bracing and fear. I’ve been living in yoga pants, because somehow wearing jeans bothers my back. I am in danger of being mistaken for a sasquatch, because I haven’t shaved my legs for 8 weeks. That’s not from winter laziness; it’s too painful to sit in tub or to kneel/bend over in the shower. Sigh.

Today is just a gloomy day or a day full of lemons, and I don’t particularly want to make lemonade today. The lemons will still be here tomorrow…

Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

Stages of Injury Grief

After yesterday morning’s physio appointment, I noticed that my pain level had dropped a fair bit for most of the day. Good news! However, the pain came roaring back around 1:00 this morning and roused me from my comfortable bed to the living room floor. I did manage to sleep somewhat decently on the floor, although I did need to change my position a few times in an effort to keep the pain low enough to allow for slumber. Just like yesterday morning, the pain was fierce this morning once I woke up for good. The short drive to the gym was pure torture, but I made it.

My gym has two floors of weights and machines. I am used to mostly sticking to the main floor where the squat racks, benches, and deadlift platforms are located, but I won’t be using those things for a while. So, as I hobbled up the stairs to find a piece of floor to do my rehab exercises, I bumped into a regular customer from work.

Customer: How was your competition?

Me: Oh, it was really good! Four Provincial records, 3 National records, 1 World Record, and I herniated a disc.

Customer: Really?!

Me: Yeah! I did very well.

There was a bit more to the conversation, but I find myself amused by this segment of the conversation even now a couple of hours later. Speaking to someone who is familiar yet essentially a stranger (even though I know his name, his wife’s name, and what they both drink at Starbucks), I could lump a herniated disc in with my accomplishments without batting an eyelash. It was just so matter-of-fact. So casual.

And yet yesterday during my physio appointment, I was almost blindsided by tears when I discovered that my left leg doesn’t have enough strength to raise my heel up off the floor. This revelation took me by surprise. How could this be?! Well, it is because I herniated a disc. Yet, it freaks me out, because I am not used to there being a disconnect between my brain and a body part. When I tell my brain that I need to get from point A to point B, my legs walk me to where I need to go. Likewise my arms can move, my hands can type or pick up an object. But when I stand on just my left foot and tell my brain to do a calf raise…there is no response but the smell of smoke from my brain working super hard to send the signal. My left leg betrays me, and that freaks me out.

I am sure that a google search could probably show me a list of the stages of dealing with an injury, but I am not inclined to do such a search at this time. Oh, who am I kidding!

I looked and easily found a list of 5 stages of injury grief!

  1. denial
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance

Obviously the best stage to be in is the fifth stage of acceptance. Accepting the injury means less stress and physical tension that can delay healing. I think acceptance will result in more progress, and I believe that reaching the acceptance stage will come easier and more quickly should another injury occur.

So where am I on this list of stages? Good question, Angela, but do you have an answer.

Denial? I don’t think I was ever truly in this stage but rather skipped it completely. From the moment I let go of the barbell on my final deadlift, I knew that something was wrong in my body. I felt the pain as I walked off the platform. While I didn’t know what the problem was, I did know that there was an injury of some sort. I hoped it was something simple and minor, but I never doubted the truth once I did get a proper diagnosis.

Anger? Again, I don’t think I lingered in this stage at all. I am not angry that this happened, even though I wish it had never happened. I can feel that way, right? Although this injury seems to have occurred during that final deadlift, the truth is that the competition isn’t to blame. It’s not like I did something wrong and the injury was the result of my error or sloppiness. It just happened. It could have happened the next day while I was getting out of bed or a month from now while lifting a box at work. How can I be angry about a silently ticking time bomb? I had an amazing competition, and I am so proud of myself that I just don’t have room to let anger in. Well, I might feel anger towards my family doctor for being such a jerk.

Bargaining? If ever there was a stage that I’d get stuck in this would likely be it. Back in the days when I still considered myself a runner, I tried bargaining when pain and injury threatened my ability to run. Eventually I had to stop running, but I still tried to bargain my way back to it. I failed in my attempts, and running is no longer a part of my life. I have also tried to bargain my way through other minor injuries with mixed results. I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson and will never resort to bargaining again. But I do want to compete at Nationals in February, and this disc herniation could mess that goal up really quickly. I can’t guarantee that I won’t cave in to the desire to bargain down the road, but for now I think I have managed to avoid this stage. I respect the professionals in my corner who want to see me get better, and I am willing to do what it takes to get there.

Depression. This stage is familiar to me, and I know how easily I can slip into its darkness. Pain that doesn’t go away chews away at your peace and happiness until all that is left is more pain but the kind that lurks within. The lack of sleep that often comes from endless physical pain will suck the life right out of you until you are nothing more than a hollow shell. I know this, and I think that I can safely navigate my way through the maze of depression. My sleep has definitely been impacted, and I do have unending pain. When the physiotherapist asked me to describe the pain, I said it was like touching a live wire. I have never touched a live wire, but I’m pretty sure it is an accurate description for what I feel in my butt. Am I in the depression stage? I cannot entirely say no or yes. Maybe? Partly? It depends on the moment?

Acceptance. This is where I think I am. Mostly. Even if my family doctor doesn’t agree, I know that I have herniated my L5 S1. I realize that the road to recovery is going to be long and tedious, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to get through this. I can joke about it, because now I can legitimately say that I have a pain in my ass. My chiropractor has instructed me to ask for help and to avoid bending and lifting. Although it is somewhat humiliating to ask for help at work (because I should be capable of picking up a box), at home I now have a valid reason to motivate my kids to be my slaves. See that? More humour!

While I might be mostly in the acceptance stage in this moment, I do have to acknowledge that grief is not bound by stages or rules or laws. Grief, in all its forms, tends to cycle through stages at random. I might be accepting today, but next week I could be angry or depressed. I could be reduced to bargaining in a month before returning to a state of acceptance. If grief is anything at all, it is unpredictable.

Three!

This is how my mind works…

Several days ago already, I was mentally planning and arranging my time between then and my competition, because time seems to be something I don’t have a lot of right now. Today is day 6 of 7 consecutive work days. Two open shifts. Three closing shifts. Today is 10:30-6:30. Tomorrow is another open shift. I knew that I would need to go to the gym on Monday and Wednesday. Monday wouldn’t be a problem, but Wednesday wasn’t looking appealing with a mid shift sandwiched between a close and an open. I like sleep. I need sleep. I am usually drained by the end of my work week, and I am feeling that way already but I’ve got two shifts to get through yet. When would I be able to get to the gym on Wednesday?

Obviously I had two choices: before work or after work. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thrilled about either choice. Before work would mean sacrificing some sleep after a late night. Going after work would have me scrambling to train, eat, and unwind before getting myself to bed early enough to get enough sleep prior to waking up at 4:45. As unappealing as my choices were, I knew that I could make each of them work. I could get up early and go. I could survive an open shift on less sleep. I can do all of that and more, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’m in the process of water loading, which means drinking a ton of water and making frequent trips to the bathroom. It feels like I have so much to get done before the competition and no time to do any of it before I finish work early tomorrow afternoon. Excuse my little whiny moment!

In my brain I like to look at all the angles and options and then come up with a plan. My plan usually also has options in case I hit a snag along the way. So, I decided that it would be better to potentially lose a bit of sleep last night in order to get to the gym early this morning. I can function on less sleep than I get, but I definitely do not like having my time crunched together at the end of the night, trying to fit everything into a tight space. I was awake at 7:10 this morning and at the gym ready to train at 8:00. Today’s training was super easy, because I am 3 days from competition. I performed all three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlifts. At 50% for 3 single reps. Twenty minutes later I was finished without even breaking a sweat. Everything moved well and felt good.

Shortly I will be on my way to work. Hopefully it will be a day that seems to pass quickly, because I definitely feel exhausted and it wasn’t from the gym. But at least now I only need to worry about eating, drinking more water, and unwinding in the 2 hours between finishing work and crawling into bed!

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now

This morning’s training session was short and sweet. Deadlifts were the only thing on the agenda and only two working singles. I had warmed up and completed my pulls within 25 minutes. I’m not sure that I even broke a sweat, but I was stoked by how solid and easy the deadlifts felt. My heaviest pull today was 285 pounds for a single rep, and it felt much easier than last week’s singles at 275. Gym PRs don’t really count for much, but I have never pulled 285 pounds in the gym before. Of course, I’ve pulled more than that in competition…but never in training. Not ever. I am used to having heavyish deadlifts feel almost impossibly difficult in training, which is one reason why I was rarely asked to do them. Oh my goodness! So many of my preconceived notions about my abilities have been shattered these past few weeks, and I find it all exciting and scary at the same time.

With the success of today’s training session added to Tuesday’s, my emotions are being pulled in a dozen different directions. The countdown is on…9 days! I am more excited than words could ever convey. This will be my 9th competition, but the thrill of competing never gets old. I feel poised on the brink of something good. After months and months of pain and struggle and frustration, I am finally feeling good and ready. My body isn’t in a 100% perfect state, but I do think I am in a physically better place than I was going into Provincials, even though I had been feeling pretty good then. Training has been going well. Weights and volume were more than I’ve done before, but my body held up and the weights moved. One of my biggest goals is within reach. I have no reason to think that this competition will be anything but good.

With the dawning confidence comes surges of fear and trepidation. I’m not afraid of failing so much, although I certainly don’t like it when failure happens. But in the moments that I feel the most excited and hopeful, I also feel the most nervous. Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’ve been injured most of the year. Some is simply the natural byproduct of competition and the desire to succeed. I think a big part of the fear is the thought of disappointment. Not my own disappointment, although that is a real possibility, but rather the thought that I might fail and thus disappoint everyone who has been cheering me on. It’s not exactly a rational kind of fear, I know, but it is present and I must acknowledge it.

My coach shared his thoughts with me as to the numbers that he is thinking of for me at this competition. His target is a small increase in my overall best total, and I am good with the numbers that he showed me. They are realistic, reasonable, and still challenging in one way or another. Seeing those numbers allowed me to exhale all the breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding inside. With a new coach, an online coach who is still learning me, I didn’t know what numbers he might pull out of his hat. I’ve been so focused on simply getting and staying healthy and my one big goal that I haven’t thought much about too much else. Yet somehow, now I am relieved to know that my coach isn’t projecting a huge jump between my previous best and what I will do in 9 days. My husband likes to joke that he won’t be satisfied unless I deadlift 350 pounds. While that may be possible one day, I am glad that my coach isn’t looking for me to add 40+ pounds to my best lifts after the year that I’ve had. It settles the nerves a bit to know, although the sense of expectation is still high.

This is a roller-coaster of emotions that I have ridden before. I’ve got this.